On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed HR 1540, the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2012. The legislation includes an amendment — added by Representative Chip Cravaack (R-Minn) — that would repeal Title VXII of the Department of Defense Authorization Act of 1984, which established the United States Institute of Peace (USIP).
Although the U.S. federal budget needs to be trimmed of redundant or underutilized programs, USIP falls under neither of those categories. Defunding or otherwise eliminating USIP would represent weakness in our national security and cripple America's ability to resolve and mediate future international conflicts.
USIP describes its mission as working to “prevent and resolve violent international conflicts,” “promote post-conflict stability and developments,” and “increase conflict management capacity, tools, and intellectual capital worldwide.” The institute conducts training and operations in conflict zones, operating in cities such as Baghdad (where it assisted the 10th Mountain Division in www.usip.org/newsroom/news/usip-facilitated-iraq-reconciliation-agreemen... stability-effort-south" target="_blank">brokering a peace agreement) and Kabul (where it supported the Afghan Ministry of Justice). In Africa, USIP provided conflict management and resolution training to local leaders and facilitated the reintegration of former rebels.
The arguments against USIP include claims that the organization is powerless and a wasteful expenditure of taxpayer money. These points are moot, however, when one considers the type of waste and ineffectiveness that runs rampant in the Pentagon. Last year, USIP operated on a budget of $49.2 million, which was cut to $39.5 in the recently adopted FY 2011 federal budget.
By comparison, it costs the same amount to deploy one infantry platoon to Afghanistan for a year
and twice as much to launch the roughly 100 cruise missiles against Libya in March. The average cost of one F-35 — $133 million per plane — could fund USIP for over three years; the Pentagon ordered 2,400 at a cost of $382 billion, with maintenance costs estimated to top out at around $1 trillion over 50 years. The same HR 1540 would authorize purchasing extra F-35 engines for an estimated $450 million. Depending on who you ask, the Air Force's coveted F-22 costs anywhere from $140 million to $394 million, and it has yet to fly a combat sortie despite being in active service since 2005.
By mandate of its charter, USIP is prohibited from raising private funds, so as not to compromise the
mission or credibility of the institution. As such, it is at a clear disadvantage — evidenced by the defense industry's lobbying in Congress — when competing against big-budget weapons programs. For all the allegations of waste and misuse by legislators such as Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Anthony Weiner (D-NY), it is ironic that annual defense appropriations bills have morphed into a welfare program for a bloated defense industry that still has not fully moved beyond the Cold War. This is the sort of scenario that kept Dwight Eisenhower up at night.
Since USIP funding went on the chopping block in January, the institute has received an outpouring of support from military, diplomatic, academic, and political leaders; most notably General David Petraeus, Admiral Gary Roughead, General Anthony Zinni, General Wesley Clark, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Senator John Kerry. As its supporters are keen to point out, USIP is not a "think tank, " and serves a vital function. USIP offers services ranging from state constitution advising to legal code development for post-conflict zones. The program provides conflict management training for civilian and military groups. In the U.S., USIP provides training through its Academy for International Conflict Management and Peacebuilding and facilitated numerous assessments of U.S. policy, particularly the Iraq Study Group.
Considering the conflicts and issues that have dominated U.S. foreign policy the past decade — the Balkans, terrorism, Afghanistan, nonproliferation, and Iraq — it is evident that USIP is a crucial asset in resolving these conflicts. U.S. foreign policy is complex and nuanced, such that grey areas exist between the solutions offered by the Departments of Defense and State; USIP is unique in that it is able to fill that void. In a world where our foreign policy has far-reaching consequences both at home and abroad, we should not cast aside such an invaluable tool for the sake of politicized penny-pinching.
Photo Credit: USIP's Academy for International Conflict Management